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Biden says ‘May 1 deadline’ is hard in terms of tactical reasons

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(Last Updated On: March 26, 2021)

U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday at the first formal White House news conference of his presidency said that it would be “hard” to withdraw the last U.S. troops from Afghanistan by a May 1 deadline, but he added that he did not think they still would be there next year, Reuters reported.

Biden comments come as his administration strives to build international pressure on the Taliban and U.S.-backed Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s government to reach a peace agreement and a ceasefire before the deadline.

According to Reuters report peace talks, however, are stalled and by suggesting U.S. troops would be gone next year, Biden risked weakening Ghani’s bargaining hand and encouraging the Taliban, who U.S. officials say have stepped up violence in their quest to oust him, to play for time, some analysts said.

During the news conference Biden said it would be hard to meet the May 1 deadline to withdraw the last 3,500 U.S. troops “just in terms of tactical reasons.”

“It’s gone be hard to meet May 1 deadline in terms of tactical reasons hard to get those troops out,” Biden told reporters.

He apparently was referring to the enormous logistical challenges of pulling out the roughly 10,000 American and foreign troops and their equipment within the next six weeks.

Biden was asked if it was possible that there still would be U.S troops in Afghanistan next year. “I can’t picture that being the case,” he responded.

The Taliban have indicated they could resume attacks on foreign troops if Biden does not meet the May 1 deadline.

The deadline was set in a February 2020 deal struck with the Taliban under former President Donald Trump.

It called for a phased conditions-based drawdown of U.S. troops from America’s longest war. The Taliban were required to prevent Islamist militant groups such as al Qaeda from using Afghanistan as a base from which to attack U.S. and allied targets.

Trump, however, ordered the drawdown to proceed even though violence escalated, U.S. officials said the Taliban had failed to cut ties with al Qaeda and disputes delayed the start of the intra-Afghan talks on a ceasefire and a settlement to decades of strife.

Washington, meanwhile, has yet to act on its commitment to have U.N. and U.S. sanctions on senior Taliban leaders lifted.

The Taliban deny they are responsible for the surge in bloodletting or that there are al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan.

Biden noted that Secretary of State Antony Blinken has been in Europe meeting with U.S. allies that have troops in Afghanistan and “if we leave, we are going to do so in a safe and orderly way.”

“The question is how and in what circumstances do we meet that agreement that was made by President Trump to leave under a deal that looks like it’s not being able to be worked out to begin with,” Biden said.

“We will leave. The question is when we leave,” he added.

U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who negotiated the withdrawal deal for Trump and was kept on by Biden, has circulated a U.S.-drafted peace proposal that would replace Ghani’s government with an interim power-sharing administration.

Ghani repeatedly has rejected stepping aside, saying any transfer of power would have to take place through elections as required by the constitution. Taliban officials have said they would not participate in an interim government, but would recommend members.

Biden comments comes after former US National Security Advisor HR McMaster said on Wednesday night he is very concerned about the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and felt it could result in a “catastrophe” for the Afghan people and for the region.

Speaking at a Hoover Institute debate, McMaster said this “so-called responsible end of the war in Afghanistan, which I think could be catastrophic not only for the Afghan people but for the people of the region, for Europe; and also result in increased risk from Jihadist terrorist organizations”.

McMaster said he would like to ask President Joe Biden about the “resurrection of the language of responsible end of the war”. He said this term was last used in 2011 regarding the Iraq withdrawal.

“Of course we know what happened a couple of years later with the rise of ISIS there,” he said adding whether Biden was, as such, concerned “about replicating that experience in Afghanistan in a way that creates a humanitarian catastrophe.”

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Magnitude 5.6 quake hits western Afghanistan, killing more than 20

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(Last Updated On: January 18, 2022)

An earthquake rocked western Afghanistan on Monday, killing more than 20 people and destroying hundreds of homes, local authorities said.

The 5.6 magnitude tremor shook the western province of Badghis, bordering Turkmenistan, in the afternoon, reducing brick homes to rubble, according to photos shared by local authorities, Reuters reported.

“Unfortunately, our initial reports show that 26 people, including five women and four children, have been killed and four others injured,” said Baz Mohammad Sarwari, the director of Information and Culture of the Badghis provincial administration.

“The Mujahideen have reached to some of the affected areas, but Badghis is a mountainous province, the number of casualties might go up,” he added, referring to Taliban fighters, and adding that heavy rain was also lashing the area.

Mullah Janan Saeqe, head of the Emergency Operations Centre of the Ministry of State for Emergency Affairs, confirmed the death toll and said more than 700 houses had been damaged, Reuters reported.

Sanullah Sabit, the head of the nursing unit at the main hospital in Badghis’ capital said they had received five patients injured in the quake, mostly with broken bones and fractures.

The quake was at a depth of 30 km (18.64 miles), according to the European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre.

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Pakistan fired 21 rockets towards Afghanistan: officials

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(Last Updated On: January 18, 2022)

Military officials in the eastern zone told Ariana News on Monday that clashes broke out between Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) and Pakistani forces on Sunday night in the Sarkano district of Kunar province, close to the Durand Line.

Officials said that Pakistani forces fired 21 rockets towards Afghanistan, but that no casualties were reported.

Hamdullah Hamdard, the spokesman for the 1st Border Battalion of the Eastern Zone, said that IEA forces also fired several rockets back at Pakistani forces.

“Clashes erupted between Taliban (IEA) and Pakistani forces in Sarkano district of Kunar province. The clashes continued until 9:00 pm. The cause of the clashes was because of the attack by Pakistani forces. In response, Taliban (IEA) forces also fired rockets towards them, and maybe they suffered casualties. Our forces and people did not suffer casualties,” added Hamdard.

IEA officials said recently they are establishing 32 new check posts along the Durand Line to counter Pakistani attacks.

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China’s birthrate falls to lowest level in 61 years

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(Last Updated On: January 17, 2022)

China’s birthrate has fallen to its lowest level in six decades, barely outnumbering deaths in 2021 despite major government efforts to increase population growth and stave off a demographic crisis.

Across China, 10.62 million babies were born in 2021, a rate of 7.52 per thousand people, the national bureau of statistics said on Monday.

In the same period 10.14 million deaths were recorded, a mortality rate of 7.18 per thousand, producing a population growth rate of just 0.34 per thousand head of population, the Guardian reported.

The rate of growth is the lowest since 1960, and adds to the findings of last May’s once-a-decade census, which found an average annual rise of 0.53%, down from 0.57% reported from 2000 to 2010.

China, like much of east Asia, is in the grip of a population crisis, with lowering birthrates, and predictions of imminent negative population growth and an ageing population. Monday’s figures showed the proportion of over-60s in China rose from 18.7% in 2020 to 18.9%.

Beijing has announced major reforms to address the decline, including raising the retirement age. A three-child policy has replaced the two-child policy that was introduced in 2016 and had sparked a slight increase in births before falling again.

The high cost of living, delayed marriages and lack of social mobility are frequently cited as contributing factors to young Chinese people’s reluctance to have children.

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